The cure for PTSD is… Ecstasy?

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Soldiers enjoy a party on a NATO-led International Security Assistance Force base in Kandahar city, Afghanistan.(ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)

In the 1990s, ecstasy was was the euphoria-producing drug of the rave scene. Blissed-out kids with colored hair, platform shoes and Sesame Street backpacks  danced to electronic music into the morning, twirling glow sticks, sucking on pacifiers and worshiping at the altar of “E.”*

Could ecstasy, known by scientists as MDMA, be the savior of a new generation–this one in crew cuts, military boots  and rucksacks?

The nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies appears to be founded on the premise that drugs like MDMA and marijuana can assist psychotherapy in the treatment of PTSD.

The MAPS web site hypes several studies. One, in Switzerland, is seeing how 12 subjects with treatment-resistant PTSD respond to MDMA and psychotherapy. Another, in Jordan, will look at how PTSD-stricken Iraqi refugees respond to MDMA. Yet another study, which is looking for participants, will look at whether smoking or vaporizing marijuana can help reduce PTSD symptoms in fifty veterans with PTSD.

There are already some indications that MDMA works. A South Carolina psychiatrist, working with MAPS and the Medical University of South Carolina found that when patients with severe PTSD were given MDMA in addition to intensive psychotherapy, they improved significantly more than patients who were given the same therapy along with a placebo.

The Swiss researchers write:

“Case reports and narrative accounts of MDMA-assisted therapy indicate that the treatment was often successful. Based on these experiences, assertions have been made that MDMA, used in the proper therapeutic setting, can act in several beneficial ways. Specifically, MDMA can ‘reduce or somehow eliminate fear of a perceived threat to one’s emotional integrity’ (Greer and Tolbert 1998). Elimination of these ‘conditioned fear responses’ can lead to more open and comfortable communication about past traumatic events, greater access to information about them, and a more accurate perspective about their significance in the present. Some clinicians and researchers have asserted that MDMA causes increased empathy or compassion for self and others, decreased defensiveness and strengthening of the therapeutic alliance, and that the above factors taken together can provide the opportunity for a corrective emotional experience (Greer and Tolbert, 1998, Holland, 2001).”

*Here’s Dateline’s parent-panicking expose of raves (circa 2000) by the way:

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